This was one day in our life long before Daniel died. It wasn’t a birthday, wasn’t a holiday. It was just a summer day in 1981. We lived, at that time, at the Chicago Ronald McDonald House, where I was employed as House Manager, and we made our own fun most days.
I had been with other people’s children who died during the tenure of my job. Too many children. And so I greatly appreciated being able to spend some nonsensical time with my own wee ones. I always understood they were a gift and not an entitlement.
I have many, many scrapbooks filled with images taken on days like these. Days spent at beaches in Philadelphia, in the mountains in Denver, as I moved the family to take on new jobs. I have pictures of Daniel-Paul swimming with funny goggles and practicing karate, riding a bike and holding his new baby brother in 1985. I have photos of him holding a football given to him by the Philadelphia Eagles during a training camp, and wearing a police jacket given to him by a police chief after he joined the police explorer scouts at age 16, just before he died in a car accident.
My love of scrapbooking began with Daniel-Paul, and grew to include photographs of Summer and then Brook and then Philip. And then… then I glued in a photograph of three children kneeling on their older brother’s grave. Flipping ahead in the albums, it seems like we picked up the pieces. But if you look more closely, you’d see a gap between the children in all of the later images. Daniel always was the one either putting an arm around a sibling or the one hugged by a sister or brother. In later pictures they stand apart, leaving a physical hole to mark the gaping black hole in our very lives.
But I remember the holidays….
The holiday pictures are very difficult to scan and display. Photographs of Daniel with a new drum, in his Christmas suit, or coming out of church. The photographs of him laughing, mugging for the camera, opening packages, smiling in anticipation, watching his brother or sisters opening a package he’d wrapped. The later ones are too painful to see, so I’ll scan an earlier one for you here.
This photograph was taken one Christmas in Chicago at the Ronald House. Daniel was given a Ronald McDonald Doll by the REAL Ronald McDonald; the television clown came to shoot a commercial at the house and while there, he played with my children and house guests. I have pages and pages filled with photographs of that day. He brought each child a Ronald McDonald Doll.
Summer asked for Daniel’s doll after his death because it remained one of his most prized possessions all of his life.
Blank scrapbook pages eventually get filled in….
Other memories get pasted in, and they, too, are sweet and precious. Little Summer, the little clown in yellow at the top of the blog, is now a grown woman — a medical director with her own beautiful son who has the middle name of Daniel. She just got engaged to a man she loves very much. I just pasted a picture of the two of them together into a scrapbook, a picture of her smiling at her beloved, holding up her hand to show off her engagement ring. That counts. It is important and worthy of its own page and special treatment of that page.
I have photos of little Brookie, too, the youngest clown on that scrapbook page, a later photo taken when she came home on leave from the military, a rare respite from her work as an Air Force police officer stationed in the Middle East during the Iraq war. I have an entire photo layout of her graduation from the Chicago police academy, where she was asked to give a speech after Mayor Daley, as top academic performer. In that spread she holds her hat… and the photograph of Daniel she wears inside it. She lived out his dream of becoming a police officer, don’t you see?
Soon I’ll be pasting more holiday memories, new ones, into a book. Photographs of beloved grandchildren opening presents, of our dogs with their new bones, of my husband playing Santa. But I won’t be pasting anymore photographs of Daniel.
For all of the money in the world, all of the travels I’ve made and the successes I’ve had, I can’t glue a photo of even one more ordinary day with him.
People seem to think you should “get over” not having those days, but I never have. I’ve just learned to cry alone, off the beaten path, knowing my family and friends mean well, but they will never understand. You understand, constant reader, and I understand your pain. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. Tonight the bear is feasting on the marrow of my bones, but tomorrow, I’ll smile with friends at a play we’re going to see together (“Scrooge”), and I’ll mean it, and maybe that’s the best I can do now. And maybe it’s enough.
God bless your journey as you find your own way through this landmine holiday season, and I hope to see you back soon. Your memories and comments are welcome here and if you know of another parent who would find this blog a peaceful place to be sometimes, please pass it along.
Thank you for your readership. Your comments are why I continue to write.